Thirst For Power and The Philosophy In Macbeth

I just watched the new adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth with Michael Fassbender. He was an excellent Macbeth. There were some changes to the original play:

The play starts with the witches. This film starts with the funeral of the Macbeth’s child which isn’t in the play. The play doesn’t directly mention the death of a child but it can be inferred.

The play, also, doesn’t show Fleance, son of Banquo, with a sword disappearing into the mist at the end. To me, this implied that Fleance will meet with the witches and kill Malcolm because they said Banquo’s sons would be kings.

In the play, Macbeth is beheaded, the film doesn’t show this.

Brief synopsis of the play:

King Duncan’s generals, Macbeth and Banquo, encounter the witches after the battle of rebellion. The prophesy of the witches is that Macbeth will become King of Scotland and Banquo’s sons shall be kings. Macbeth starts out as a good man but his thirst for power makes him bad. The Macbeths’ plot to kill Duncan and Macbeth becomes King and he has Banquo killed but his son, Fleance, escapes.

Macbeth’s guilt brings on hallucinations and Banquo’s ghost. He then embarks on a reign of terror, Macduff’s family are killed. Malcolm, Duncan’s son, and Macduff decide to lead an army against Macbeth. Lady Macbeth, full of guilt, kills herself.

Macduff and Macbeth fight, but Macduff is the product of a caesarean birth, technically not born of woman. Macbeth knows he is doomed because he can only be killed by a man not born of woman. Macduff beheads Macbeth and brings it to King Malcolm.


Let’s glean some philosophy out of Macbeth. The movie and play are concerned with the effects of evil actions on the mind of the perpetrator.

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” This is one of the many “doublespeak” statements in the play. Good is bad and bad is good is a conflicting statement from the witches.

Macbeth because of his thirst for power turns him from fair (good) to foul (bad).

To Macbeth his bad actions our good for him, he becomes King.

Macbeth is weak in character because he can’t conquer his guilt and self-doubt.

He leans on Lady Macbeth’s steely sense of purpose to push him forward to his evil deeds. But after his wife’s death, he is alone and he succumbs to despair.

Time is a big theme in Macbeth. The play is concerned with the limited time allotted to us humans.

How does the future relate to the present? What Macbeth did in the present has consequences for his future, he must endure the guilt in the aftermath.

He constantly refers to “tomorrow” because he thinks it will be a refuge from the past and present. But he has mortgaged the past and present to the future and he finds the future can’t be unconnected from the past.

We all live in a line of yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows, with death the end of the line. Shakespeare reminds us of the temporal character of our life.

I love the speech Macbeth gives when he knows his queen is dead, this is the translation in modern English:

“She would have died anyway, we all die. So, that news was bound to come someday. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, the days creep slowly along until the end. And everyday that’s already happened has taken fools that much closer to their deaths. Out, out, brief candle. Life is a story told by an idiot, full of noise and emotional disturbance but devoid of meaning.”

This speech expresses the utter meaninglessness of life!

An observation on Macbeth and his death, the two words rhyme: He has his head cut off and it is shown on stage while his body is elsewhere. He is in a bodiless state! So, his mind is detached from his criminal body. He was a man with a dual nature, a man of violent action and a man of imagination. The separation of head from body show us this dual nature.

I will leave you with this statement:

Power is dangerous unless you have humility and power will either burn a man out or light him up.

Also published on Medium.

4 thoughts on “Thirst For Power and The Philosophy In Macbeth

  1. An interesting article Dave and an enjoyable read!

    I’d like to explore this more with you when we meet! I’d like to know what else you drew from this. For example, you note that one of the speeches extols the meaninglessness of life – but what does mean? What do we take from that?

  2. “We all live in a line of yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows”
    How true. Yesterday is a memory, tomorrow is a wish, the only thing real is “now”. Live in the moment. Live in the “now”.

    Good blog Dave.

  3. What does meaninglessness mean?
    Life is brief and it is taken up with acting, concealment, the need to impress. We should live our lives with more authenticity. We are condemned to perform the dramatic strut on the stage of life. Our short live is taken up with trying to make ourselves into convincing people. Then we vanish from the stage, having turned in a passable or poor performance, other players come and strut in our place, on and on it goes without end. It’s a mechanical life, sleep, eat, work, eat again, and sleep!!!
    Authenticity– Remove all masks and be who who are, truly.

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